OAKLAND -- It became almost a running joke earlier this season how little run support Jeff Samardzija was getting with the Chicago Cubs, especially when the right-hander had a 1.68 ERA through 11 starts but a 1-4 record to show for it. Wednesday, Samardzija’s new team scored five runs on his start day -- a total they’ve reached only three times in their last 10 games -- but it went for naught in an 8-5 A’s loss to the New York Mets.
"The day your team gets you five runs, you’ve got to turn those into victories," a subdued Samardzija said after the game. "It was a big game today. And I didn’t do my part. So it stings."
The A’s had a chance to pull even with the Angels in the West -- at least until the end of Los Angeles’ game this evening -- and go into their highly anticipated showdown with the Angels this weekend on a two-game winning streak after losing five in a row to end their last road trip.
Instead, they lost for the eighth time in 10 games while watching Samardzija have his worst outing in an A’s uniform -- 3 2/3 innings, seven hits and seven runs allowed. He retired the first six hitters he faced before unraveling in the third inning, when the Mets scored five runs, four of them with two outs.
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After allowing a leadoff homer to Eric Campbell in the third, Samardzija retired the next two hitters and got Curtis Granderson to hit a broken-bat flare to where the third baseman normally would have made an easy play. But the A’s had a shift on against Granderson, so the ball went for a single. Daniel Murphy then singled, David Wright walked, one run scored on a Samardzija wild pitch, and Lucas Duda hit a three-run homer to dead center that gave the Mets a sudden 5-0 lead.
"The (Campbell) homer, the guy definitely earned that one. But it was tough, because a couple balls squeaked through," A’s catcher John Jaso said. "Other than that, I think he (Samardzija) kind of fell behind a couple hitters and gave them a chance to get in a good hitter’s count. But it was tough because of those balls that squeaked through."
Samardzija was not so diplomatic when asked about his response to Granderson’s hit. "Obviously the play happened, so you’ve got to learn to put it behind you," he said. "You want those outs, but when they get on base and the next hitter comes up, you’ve got to turn the page and move on."
Samardzija came back out for the fourth, but couldn’t finish the inning after two-out RBI hits by Granderson and Murphy. It was just the second time this season he has allowed at least seven runs in a start -- he gave up eight on June 1 in Milwaukee for the Cubs -- and he has now allowed eight home runs in nine starts for the A’s after giving up just seven in his 18 starts for Chicago.
Manager Bob Melvin said it looked early on like Samardzija, who also lost for the first time at the Coliseum, "had really good stuff. … He hit 97 (mph) a couple times, and it looked like he had a good splitter, feel for his slider." Samardzija agreed that his splitter, which he relies on as an out pitch, was "everything we wanted" at first, but "it just kind of left me as the game went on."
"I kept going to it and kept falling behind in the count," Samardzija said. "So I had to go back and throw some fastballs, and they got comfortable in there when they could eliminate (the splitter)."
Samardzija has talked about having command issues with the splitter upon first arriving in Oakland, but said he thought the problems Wednesday were just a result of throwing too many pitches in the third. "I’m not going to read too far into that," he said. "Like I said, there were a handful of other pitches I wish I could’ve had back in that inning."
Melvin also refused to read too much into one bad start by Samardzija. Since joining the A’s, the right-hander has not been dominant, going 3-3 with a 4.07 ERA in nine outings. Still, when asked about Samardzija’s body of work in Oakland, Melvin said: "We have a lot of confidence in him."
"He’s pitched some really good games for us, and today was really the one tough game that he’s had as far as numbers go," Melvin said. "It’s still kind of a small sample what he’s done for us. But he’s a killer, he wants to be out there, he wants the ball, and we feel confident when he takes the mound -- and that’s a lot of the battle."
* The loss overshadowed some positive offensive developments for the A’s. They strung together hits in innings for the second night in a row, particularly in the third, when they got back-to-back RBI doubles from Coco Crisp and John Jaso. And they scored two more in the fourth after starting the inning with a walk and single by Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick, albeit thanks to an error by Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy on a grounder that should have ended the inning.
The A’s actually brought the potential go-ahead run to the plate in the eighth after Sam Fuld’s bases-loaded walk made it a three-run game. But that’s when the clutch hit proved elusive to them once again. Andy Parrino struck out looking against reliever Jeurys Familia, and Josh Donaldson grounded out sharply to end the inning.
"That was good -- I feel like we put up some good at-bats, and guys were drawing walks to get on base and get runners in scoring position," Jaso said.
Not executing in those situations won’t help the A’s against the Angels this weekend, but Jaso said recent issues with runners on aren’t weighing on the A’s mentally.
"I don’t think we’re really changing much," he said. "The struggles are just kind of individual work things that guys have to do in the cage, or out there during BP, and then just let it play out when the game starts."
* Much of the talk after the game was about this upcoming series, which the A’s will go into at best tied with the Angels for first place in the West and at worst two games back. While the A’s are in arguably their longest rut as a team this season, the Angels entered play today having won seven of 10 to take the division lead.
Still, several A’s players dismissed the idea that lack of momentum will hurt them -- or that they’ll be pressing during the series to avoid falling further behind in the race.
"I think this little slump, it’s come just from us not firing on all cylinders," Samardzija said. "We’ve had good pitching, we’ve had good hitting. We just need to piece them together and have all three facets of the game clicking at the same time."
Said Donaldson: "I feel like we’re going to be fine. It’s definitely going to be an important series for us, and (the Angels are) playing well, and there are a few things that we want to clean up. That being said, we’re looking forward to Friday."
* One bright spot for the A’s on Wednesday: reliever Fernando Abad, who entered with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth, escaped by getting Matt Den Dekker to fly out, and retired the next five batters before coming out with two outs in the eighth.
Abad has now stranded all 26 of his inherited runners this season, has not allowed a run in his last 10 appearances, and has a 1.62 ERA on the season.
"He seems to do really well when you bring him in when there’s some traffic out there," Melvin said. "As early as we went to the bullpen today, we needed him to do that. It just seems like he turns it up a notch when there’s guys on base. He’s not afraid to come in there and execute pitches, and not worry about base-runners."
* Both Donaldson and Derek Norris, who were held out of the starting lineup, entered the game late as pinch hitters and stayed in for defense. Norris, who’s dealing with back pain, looked notably hampered running to first base on a double play, but Melvin said Norris’ back doesn’t bother him when catching and only hurts when he runs full-speed.
Donaldson also appeared to come up limping a little after running out an infield single, and was stretching out his left leg afterward at first base. Melvin said Donaldson "plays with some things, little aggravations. And then to come into the game when he did today, maybe (he was) a little stiffer than normal. But it wasn’t an issue after that."
* The A’s now have an off-day to recover before welcoming in the Angels. The pitching probables for that series:
Friday: LHP Hector Santiago (3-7, 3.46) vs. RHP Sonny Gray (12-7, 2.99)
Saturday: LHP C.J. Wilson (10-8, 4.59) vs. LHP Jon Lester (13-8, 2.58)
Sunday: RHP Jered Weaver (13-7, 3.70) vs. LHP Scott Kazmir (14-5, 2.73)